Notion has invested in more than 50 European tech companies. They are all different. But they have much in common. In particular, they all want to build global category leading companies. Secondly they all recognise they cannot achieve that without significant and successful international expansion.
In the early part of their start up journey they are focusing on product market fit in their domestic markets and building the foundations of a global business. But as they start to enter the grow-up phase – from $5-25m revenue – figuring out their strategy for international product market fit and growth is critical. Most commonly their thoughts turn to US expansion, but the other market becoming increasingly important is Asia, and quite rightly so.
With 5bn people in 50 countries, and with developed, fast growing and emerging economies, Asia is a fascinating part of the world. Probably 1/3 of the Notion portfolio has a foothold in Asia. Tradeshift stands out with a major presence in China, 5 or 6 have a presence in Singapore and many have a proportion of their revenues from the various geographies whether is that’s ANZ – which is increasingly common – Japan, and India.
This article is based on a fascinating conversation I had with Susie Hughes, who at the time was a VP at Allison+Partners, a global communications agency, rooted in the tech scene of San Francisco, but now operating around the world. Susie is an international tech citizen, she has worked in three major tech hubs – San Francisco, London and now Asia, supporting technology companies on their journey and is now Director of Communications at Appier, still living and working in Singapore.
You can listen to that conversation in full here.
Asia as a geography is beguiling, fast moving and exciting, are there similarities between the tech hubs and London or San Francisco?
Tech hubs around the world are very similar in the way that they are collaborative and supportive for success and with a thirst for knowledge. That was very much the case in the valley, and when I arrived in London in 2011 there was a similar sense of collaboration and growing together and building an identity as a place to grow technology companies. Then when I arrived in Singapore in 2016 I experienced the same again for the third time, though in many ways it’s the least mature of the three.
Now in 2018, Singapore feels much like the London scene of a few years ago, and the spirit of collaboration and learning together are absolutely there.
The differences go back to the levels of maturity. In San Francisco there is a huge amount of resources, knowledge and money and in London I started to see that founders started to realise that they could grow and fund successful businesses out of the UK and London. Now we are seeing the same in Singapore. Four years ago there was no VC scene, but now there is and you see the companies emerging.
Let’s take it up a level and discuss Asia as a whole.
Asia cannot be considered as a market in the way Europe can. Though Europe has significant cultural differences, there is a single market and generally accepted ways of working and doing business. Across Asia there is little or no political or economic cohesion and each country, and even cities within those countries are dramatically different.
So Asia can’t be considered one place. It is more than 50 diverse markets that require a different approach. Even within South East Asia, the way the markets work and businesses or consumers think can be markedly different.
The first thing to consider is whether your tech is going to make sense. So for example Indonesia and Philippines have fast growing populations, with an upwardly mobile, young demographic but in many parts of those countries there are basic problems that have long been addressed in the West, such as last mile delivery.
There might be issues with connectivity if you have a web only or cloud based solution.
If you are a b2b tech company, you may find there isn’t the tech literacy at the senior levels that you would be used to in Europe or the US so you need to think carefully about how you educate your prospects.
Where I typically get involved is how to educate through content and media and understanding how the media works is really important. In Singapore the way the media works is very similar to Europe or the US. It’s sophisticated and discerning and the journalists want to ensure the stories are relatable to Singaporean readers. In emerging markets the media are sometimes less sophisticated. There can be advantages to that as you may be able to provide pre-packed content and see it published. But you may also need to educate the tech journalists themselves. So for example, face to face meetings and demos go down really well. Whereas in the UK or US the journalists simply don’t have the time to meet, and most interactions take place on email.
So companies considering launching here will need to make themselves available to the right channels and take responsibility for educating.
How do you position the excitement and potential of entering the region to entrepreneurs considering entering the region?
It is entirely possible that Asia could overtake the US as the next obvious place for European tech entrepreneurs. And the main reason for that is the speed of adoption, which is unlike anywhere else in the world. And that is particularly true for mobile technologies.
If we look at how tech has been adopted by consumers in the west, it was relatively linear. Families had a computer at home and at work and in schools. Then each individual family member had their own laptop. And then one person in the family had a mobile phone, now every family member has one or more mobile. In South East all that is being leapfrogged. Many people will never access the internet via a computer. Their only experience of the internet is mobile. And the technology you provide must work primarily in that area. This represents a huge opportunity in consumer tech and we are seeing that now. But from a b2b perspective, all of that consumer experience relies on the underlying infrastructure. So the opportunity to provide the infrastructure is a major opportunity.
And then these technologies and experiences will start to impact on big businesses too and for those that get it, the speed of decision making in enterprise can be dramatically faster in Asia.
Notion as an example, has companies in the portfolio who are selling mobile first tech are winning global multinational customers – European and US companies – from Asia first, which might seem bizarre but makes sense.
How should entrepreneurs get up to speed?
It is not rocket science. Reading the local media in any market is a good way to get a sense of the national concerns. In Singapore those papers are the Straits Times and The Business Times; in Thailand The Bangkok Post and The Nation; in the Philippines it’s the Manila Bulletin; and in Indonesia it’s the Jakarta Post. Read these and learn who the players are in the media, government and business.
But the most important part is the face-to-face time and building your network. In Singapore there is a lot of enthusiasm to collaborate, but across the region people do want to see a commitment to the market, and that business leaders can say this is not just another country on our web site, but that we have a real intent to do business here and give back to the local community.
Read the corporate blogs of businesses based in the market you are considering. Understand the event schedule in region. For example, everyone in tech would know of Web Summit in Europe or Collision in North America, and the similar event in Asia is Rise, which is incredibly useful. There is no quick way and founders need to make the commitment and have patience.
Who is doing this well, entering the market and winning first customers?
One company that springs to mind is Stripe. Stripe did a lot of what I just described, they placed a business lead in the region and she spent a lot of time meeting with and speaking to potential customers, partners and stakeholders and spent a year doing this. So when they launched they had a bank of goodwill to call on. It gave them a runway. What you don’t want to do is to show up, announce your office, host a party, and then nothing. Stripe had many things to talk about and a lot of goodwill following on from the launch.
How should companies choose the markets to focus on?
You have to make choices about the customers you want to serve and create a narrow focus; this country, this city, this market and this segment. You should bear in mind that there are often a relatively small number of companies who own a large proportion of an individual market, and this obviously has advantages and disadvantages.
It comes down to knowing the landscape and not making assumptions that products and markets will work the way you have experienced in the past.
And take into account that there there is also a lot of pride in home grown technology.
If you want to learn more about how Allison + Partners are helping technology companies around the world, visit https://www.allisonpr.com/ or contact Harry.Ronaldson@allisonpr.com.
With 5bn people in 50 countries with developed, fast growing and emerging economies, Asia is a fascinating part of the world. More than a third of the Notion portfolio has a foothold in Asia, some with a significant presence, but all are discussing and considering the timing of their Asian expansion.
In this interview we discuss Asia with Susie Hughes, who at the time of recording was VP at Allison+Partners, a global communications agency, rooted in the tech scene of San Francisco, but now operating around the world. Susie is an international tech citizen and has worked in three major tech hubs – San Francisco, London and now Asia, supporting technology companies on their journey and is now Director of Communications at Appier, still living and working in Singapore.